Workplace spirituality Featured

9:53am EDT July 22, 2002

On a daily basis, we seem to witness far too many problems with anger, violence, suicide, addiction, abuse, divorce, even the abandonment of children. These shocking events scream at us from every headline and fill every newscast. Perhaps the workplace is not the best arena for dealing with these problems, but it may be a good place to start.

Most people spend more time in the workplace than they do anywhere else, including their homes. Maybe a dash of spirituality in the workplace could provide the impetus to strengthen the individual, and even carry over to the home environment. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.

First, we need to define religion and spirituality, because they are not necessarily synonyms. My favorite definition has always been that religion is when a person goes to church and thinks about fishing, while spirituality is when a person goes fishing and thinks about God.

Of course, spirituality in the workplace must allow for differences in belief systems. Still, it needs to be based on concepts such as the Golden Rule that are universally taught and accepted as core beliefs in all faiths.

I would never be so bold as to try to tell anyone what to believe. I only want to say that it should be OK to believe. There should be opportunities in the workplace that permit your employees to express their natural instincts to care, share and openly live their personal belief systems.

When the working environment allows people to live their beliefs, the result is usually less tension, more harmony, more cooperation, more enthusiasm and a higher level of trust. And, I might add, a higher level of productivity. It becomes a place where people can enjoy a sense of togetherness.

The biggest problem with trying to create an environment where spirituality can thrive is that too many people try to use it as a bully pulpit to convince others to believe as they do. This creates dissension and resentment. It’s far more desirable to create an environment where people feel free to live their own belief systems.

The primary purpose of spirituality in the workplace should be to promote better understanding and goodwill and to help people feel that they are important and that their lives are meaningful. But before attempting to create a working environment where spirituality can flourish, consider the following:

  • What are your motives? Never attempt to use this as an opportunity to sell your own beliefs or to promote something that might attract detractors and stir up unnecessary controversy.

  • Consider the desires and needs of your employees. Do they want a different working environment? If they are perfectly content, don’t rock the boat.

  • Establish a meaningful open door policy. As the leader, you should let your employees know that you are always available to listen to problems and concerns. The ability to really listen is a valuable leadership skill. Good listeners gain valuable insights into their organizations, which help them manage more effectively.

  • Carefully select your champions. Establishing this environment is not a one-person job; you will need the help of a few champions, who you can count on for support as you attempt to make changes in the environment. A key to success is to solicit help from average people who quietly live their belief systems. Avoid people who overly vocalize their personal beliefs.

  • Measure twice, saw once. For the most effective results, take your time in setting up a more spiritual work environment. If you create an environment where people feel comfortable, the rest will follow in due time.

William Armstrong, a management consultant for nearly 30 years, is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm. Reach him at (412) 276-7396 or by e-mail at armassoc@fyi.net.